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Consumers are stressed, but confident: Surprising results from our Mood of the World 2017 study

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“I read the news today, oh boy”, John Lennon wrote this in 1967, but it seems every more appropriate today.  The news alert goes off on your mobile, and you think – what has happened now?  Terrorism?  Natural disaster?  North Korea?  Do you wonder how this seemingly constant barrage of anxiety-producing news is impacting people around the world?

At GfK Consumer Life, every year since 1997, we conduct a survey of people all around the globe.  Many of the questions we ask have been asked for the past 20 years.  This gives us a unique perspective on how people are feeling today and reacting to the world around them.  These insights are used by global businesses and organizations to help them understand how their target markets are evolving, help them develop new products and services, and create more effective and relevant messaging.

Our 2017 study is just out of the field and we’ve learned some interesting things about how people are reacting and adapting to the world around them.

Consumers feeling stressed

One of the things we’ve found is that people are reporting higher levels of stress.  This probably isn’t all that surprising, but the magnitude of the increase is nonetheless pretty startling.  91% of global respondents in our study report they find at least one of 14 problems to be a cause of stress in their life, and that number is up 20 points since 2015.  But it is not just the problems of the outside world that are stressing us out.  Stress is also coming from the pressure we are putting on ourselves, our health and day-to-day finances.

Confidence still high

Yet what is interesting about this stress is that it doesn’t appear to be dimming global consumer confidence.  Seven out of ten global consumers feel that they will be better off financially in the next 12 months – a number that has been quite steady globally since 2014 (and indeed, just a little bit better than where we were in 2016).

Perhaps this is because despite all the talk about division and polarization, in many ways, people around the world are more alike than they have ever been.  Proliferation of mobile devices enables similar, on-the-go lifestyles.  Globally, our data shows that people feel less constrained by societal expectations related to gender and age.  Increasing global urbanization means that there are converging urban lifestyles.  Let’s face it, being late for work because you got stuck in traffic is just as frustrating whether that traffic is in Mexico City, Shanghai, or New York.

Conclusion

Expectations, or more specifically, rising expectations – that people have of themselves, of the products they use and the brands they buy – are contributing to both increased stress levels and sustained consumer confidence.  The fact that these two dynamics are happening at the same time is truly new news.

Kathy Sheehan is Executive Vice President and General Manager of GfK’s Consumer Trends team. She can be reached at kathy.sheehan@gfk.com.

View our on-demand webinar The Mood of the World Today

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